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The Crypt of
Pharaoh Amenophis

Anubis prepares the mummy,
from the papyrus of Ani,
by Salvador Cherubini.

Excerpted from La Mort De Philae
by Pierre Loti, 1924
Deep in the tomb of Pharaoh Amenophis...

The soul used to depart simultaneously under two forms: a flame [The Khou, which never returned to our world] and a falcon [The Bai (Ba), which might, at its will, revisit the tomb]. And this country of shadows, called also the West, to which the soul had to journey, was where the moon sinks and where each evening the Sun goes down. It is a country to which the living were never able to attain, it fled before them, however fast they might travel across the sands.

On its arrival there, the soul had to parley successively with the fearsome demons who lay in wait for it along its route. If at last it was judged worthy to approach Osiris, the soul was subsumed in him and reappeared as a star, shining over the world the next morning and on all succeeding mornings until the consummation of time. It was a vague survival in solar splendour, a continuation without personality, parallel to Buddhist no-thingness.

To care for the Bai it was thought necessary to preserve the body at whatever cost, for the Bai of the dead man continued to dwell in the dry flesh, and retained a kind of partial life, barely conscious. Sometimes, too, this double, escaping from the mummy and its box, would wander like a phantom about the tomb. In order that at such times it might be able to obtain nourishment, a mass of mummified viands were among the thousand and one things buried at its side. Even natron and oils were left, so that it might re-embalm itself.

And for Amenophis II this more or less is the story of his Bai:
After three or four hundred years passed, lulled in heavy slumber, he heard the sound of muffled blows in the distance, by the side of the hidden well. The secret entrance was discovered: men were breaking through its walls! Living beings were about to appear, pillagers of tombs, no doubt, come to rob, to destroy!

But no! It is the chanting priests of Osiris, advancing, trembling, in a funeral procession. With them they brought nine great coffins, the mummies of nine kings. Amenophis was joined by his sons, grandsons and other unknown successors, down to King Setnakht, who governed Egypt two and a half centuries after him. It was to hide them better that they brought them hither, and placed them all together in a chamber that was immediately walled up. Then they departed. The stones of the door were sealed afresh, and everything fell again into the old mournful and burning darkness.

Slowly the centuries rolled on--perhaps ten, perhaps twenty--in a silence no longer even disturbed by the scratchings of the insects. And a day came when the same blows were heard again at the entrance . . . . This time it was the robbers. Carrying torches in their hands, they rushed headlong in, with shouts and cries. Everything was plundered except the hiding-place of the nine coffins. Then, when they had secured their booty, they walled up the entrance as before. They left an inextricable confusion of shrouds, of shattered vases, of broken gods and emblems.

by Prisse d'Avennes 1878

Afterwards, for long centuries, there was silence again. Finally, in our days, the Bai perceived the noise of stones being unsealed by blows of pickaxes yet again. The third time, the living men who entered were of a kind never seen before. At first they seemed respectful and pious, only touching things gently.

But they came to plunder everything, even the nine coffins in their still inviolate hiding-place. They gathered the smallest fragments with a solicitude almost religious. That they might lose nothing they sifted the rubbish and the dust. But, as for Amenophis, who was already nothing more than a lamentable mummy, without jewels or bandages, they left him at the bottom of his sarcophagus of sandstone. And since that day, doomed to receive each morning numerous people of a strange aspect, he dwells alone in his tomb, where there is now neither a being nor a thing belonging to his time.

Anubis Anubis, the guardian And then, suddenly, black night! And we stand as if congealed in our place. The electric light has gone out--everywhere at once. Above, on the Earth, midday must have sounded for those who still have awareness of the Sun and the hours.

The guard who has brought us hither shouts in his Bedouin falsetto to get the light switched on again, but the infinite thickness of the walls, instead of prolonging the vibrations, seems to deaden them. Who could hear us, in the depths where we now are?

Then, groping in the absolute darkness, he makes his way up the sloping passage. The hurried patter of his sandals and the flapping of his burnous grow faint in the distance, and the cries that he continues to utter soften and fade, so smothered that it seems we might ourselves be buried. Meanwhile we do not move.

But how comes it that it is so hot among these mummies? It seems as if there were fires burning in some oven close by. And above all there is a want of air. Perhaps the corridors, after our passage, have contracted, as happens sometimes in the anguish of dreams. Perhaps the long fissure by which we have crawled hither has closed in upon us.

The Weighing of the Heart.
by G. Angelelli ,1832

At length the light is turned on again. The Bedouin is now returned, breathless from his journey. He urges us to come to see the king before the electric light is again extinguished, and this time permanently.

Tomb of Rameses VI.
Hand colored photo from Elysian Fields c.1920.

Star Chart, roof of the crypt, tomb of Ramesses VII
The sky goddess Nut reaches over two lines of constellations.
From La Description de l'Egypte, 1809.

AnubisAnubisBehold us now at the end of the hall, on the edge of a dark crypt, leaning over and peering within. It is a place oval in form, with a vault of black, relieved by frescoes, either white or the color of ashes. They represent, these frescoes, a whole new register of gods and demons, some slim and sheathed narrowly like mummies, others with big heads and big bellies like hippopotami. Placed on the ground and watched from above by all these figures is an enormous sarcophagus of stone, wide open. In it we can distinguish vaguely the outline of a human body: the Pharaoh!

We should have liked to see him better. The necessary light is forthcoming at once: the Bedouin touches an electric button and a powerful lamp illuminates the face of Amenophis, detailing with a clearness that almost frightens you: the closed eyes, the grimacing countenance, and the whole of the sad mummy. This theatrical effect took us by surprise; we were not prepared for it.

He was buried in magnificence, but the pillagers have stripped him of everything, even of his beautiful breastplate of tortoise shell, which came to him, a gift from a far-off Oriental country. For many centuries now he has slept half naked on his rags. But his poor bouquet is there still--of mimosa, recognisable even now. Who will ever tell what pious or perhaps amorous hand it was that gathered these flowers for him more than three thousand years ago?

The heat is suffocating. The whole crushing mass of this mountain into which we have crawled like white ants seems to weigh upon our chest. And these figures too, inscribed on every side, and this mystery of the hieroglyphs and the symbols, cause a growing uneasiness. You are too near them, they seem too much the masters of the exits, these gods with their heads of falcon, ibis and jackal. On the walls they converse in a continual exalted pantomime.

From the tomb of Ramsses IX.

And then the feeling comes over you, that it is sacrilege standing there, before this open coffin, in this unwonted insolent light. The shrunken face seems to ask for mercy: "Yes, yes, my sepulchre has been violated and I am returning to dust. But now that you have seen me, leave me, turn out that light, have pity on my nothingness."

Indeed, what a mockery! To have adopted so many stratagems to hide his corpse; to have exhausted thousands of men in the hewing of this underground labyrinth, and to end thus, with his head in the glare of an electric lamp, to amuse whoever passes.

I think it was the poor bouquet of mimosa that awakened me. I say to the Bedouin: "Yes, put out the light, put it out--that is enough."

And then the darkness returns above the royal countenance, which is suddenly invisible in the sarcophagus. The phantom of the Pharaoh is vanished, plunged into the unfathomable past. The audience is at an end.

And we, who are able to escape, ascend rapidly towards the sunshine of the living, we go to breathe the air again, the air to which we have still a right--for some few days longer.
Excerpted from La Mort De Philae
by Pierre Loti, 1909, 1924

Anubis, Guardian of the fields of the dead.
This life-size statue was found at the foot of Tutankhamen's coffin.

Ramsses III, Exalted, from the Champollion expedition, 1835.

Anubis Anubis, the guardian

wings of the Sun.

The Valley Of The Kings
Eternal Palaces of New Kingdom Pharaohs

The Valley of the Kings Part 1
Pharaoh Amenophis' tomb Part 2
Part 3: The Crypt
Giovanni Belzoni and the tomb of Seti I
Ancient Egyptian Artist techniques in the Tomb of Seti I
Valley of the Kings Photos
Valley of the Queens - Queens' portraits
Valley of the Queens Nefertari a rarely seen Egyptian treasure
Deir el Medina: Tombs of the craftsmen.

Countless beautiful 19th century images of ancient Egypt
and 75 pages of architecture, art and mystery
are linked from the library page:

The Egyptian Secrets Library

Grand Nile Tour